Epistola a Ferrante Francesco d'Avalos suo consorte
nella Rotta di Ravenna [1512, summer into autumn]
By Vittora Colonna
Epistola a Ferrante Francesco D'Avalos
Di Vittoria Colonna

My most exalted Lord, I am writing
this to let you know what my life is like.
I live surrounded by uncertainties,
driven by bitter humiliation.

I hadn't thought you would inflict such pain--
you who enjoyed the favor of the gods
you who couldn't lose those golden prizes.

I wouldn't have believed a nobleman,
my husband and my Roman father could
behave so cruelly, callously to me.

The respect I owe a father and my
love for you are eating me up alive;
it's like two rabid famished snakes ceaselessly
preying, gnawing on my heart bit by bit.

I believed the fates would be kinder; I
thought my many sacrifices and vows
would lull or satisfy hell's instruments.

There is no temple I have not cried in,
no image I have not prayed to--could pleas,
supplications, and vows displease God's saints?

It was unthinkable to me constant
application, unconditional love--
and my love has known no limits--could offend.

But I have changed my mind. Even if God
rewards your deeds, even if my father's
are like a god's, even if neither can
be deprived of his grandeur or fame, what

is this to me? I have no stake in these
chancy attacks, in this stubborn violence.
Horrible, cruel. I can only harden,
my mind and heart become a sort of stone
covered with hard enamel. Yes, indeed

your lofty courage has demonstrated
you are a Hector, an Achilles, but
what is this to me, sad and abandoned?

Always everything seems to me open
to doubt: those who perceived my dejection
thought your absence hurt me, that I was jealous.

They were wrong. I was wretched endlessly
picturing your nerve, daring, and gall, and
I'd think about Lady Luck, how people
in her grip generally do badly.

Let others sue for war, I always seek peace
and tell everyone: he is enough.
I do not ask any more than to have
my Lord lying quietly by my side.

It doesn't faze you in the least to court
danger, to act on the unsure moment,
but we women who wait must worry, grieve,

made apprehensive by all that we dread,
while you men, possessed by the battle's rage,
confront danger and blood for honor's sake,
mindless, shouting demoniacally.

We are inward creatures: our hearts tremble;
with sad faces, our role is to want you.
The sister longs for her brother, the wife
for her husband, the mother for her son.

And what am I? who want husband and father
and brother and son; in this place I play
all the roles: wife, daughter, sister, mother.

To be born female is to be someone's
daughter; and then there's the game of marriage;
I became a wife; I am by nature
a tender sister and a mother too.

Wanderers never came to this island
without my seeking to know their story;
I'd examine each part of each tale to
find out how it was made; I am alive
to the beauties of such things, they cheer me up.

Then one day looking out from this rock's edge
where I go to rest my body (my mind
is with you)--I saw a dark gloomy mist

blanket the island and the sky over
me pressed in on me, like a cave of black smoke.
It was a blinding black day, The bleak owl's

song was heard across Typhon's lake, which swelled
high, the lava swirled red-hot. Terror brough
t made me realize Typhon is resisting!

This happpened Easter day, in that gentle
season. Then Aeolus moved his winds
along our shores; the Sirens, dolphins, and
fish could be heard crying. The sea was ink.

Everywhere I looked, sea-gods were weeping,
and seemed to chant at Ischia; "Today,
Vittoria, they are disgraced, in prison.

Although they are well, triumphant, retain
their eternal splendor before the world,
still affliction has come." Then my face taut, wet,

I went to Costanza, always so strong,
generous. I recounted the melancholy
and frightening vision, and as always

she comforted me: "Dismiss it from your
mind. It's very strange, but it'd be stranger still
if such massive forces were defeated."

"But someone so aggressive, so eager
to act heroically can never be
far from death's sinister door. He doesn't

know what fear is, leads each charge--they both have
to be daring, ready, and quick, act rashly,
play a brazen role; fortune offers them
no truce; there is no stealthy bargaining."

And pat there was the cruel messenger
giving us in solemn tones the bad news;
the memory of the hot ache rippling
through my chest will be with me forever.

If you'd wanted me, I would have been there,
and you'd not have failed. In deserting me,
you deserted your goddess, Victory,
whom everyone seeks and she eludes them all.

Pompey was punished for deserting his
Cornelia; I'm sure you recall the tale;
so too was Cato for abandoning
Marcia coldly when in tears she'd despaired.

A wife should be with her husband in mind
and in body, share his fears and pleasures,
for if he should die, she too perishes.

Where the one is vulnerable, the other
is so too, on a par in life and death,
for the lot which he draws becomes her lot.

Mithridates and his wife were lucky:
they experienced equally, together,
life's happy days and the torture of shame.

My face is sad, haggard, full of scorn:
you left me to lie alone in your bed;
everyone thinks I hold on in the hope

of seeing you, but not so, what they see
is my grief becoming just a little
less when I think of the joy you must feel now.

Eccelso mio signor, questa ti scrivo
per te narrar tra quante dubbie voglie,
fra quanti aspri martir dogliosa io vivo.

non sperava da te tormento e doglie:
chè se il favor del ciel t'era propizio,
perdute non sarian l'opime spoglie.

Non credeva un marchese ed un Fabrizio,
l'un sposo, e l'altro padre, al mio dolore
fosser sì crudo e dispietato inizio.

Del padre la pietà, di te l'amore,
come duo angui rabidi affamati,
rodendo stavan sempre nel mio core.

Credeva più benigni avere i fati:
chè tanti sacrifici e voti tanti
i rettor dell'inferno arian placati!

Non era tempio alcun, che de' miei pianti
non fosse madefatto, e non figura
che non avessse de' miei voti alquanti.

Io credo lor dispiacque tanta cura,
tanto mio lacrimar, cotanti voti;
chè spiace a Dio l'amor senza misura.

Benchè li fatti tuoi al ciel sian noti,
e que' del padre mio volin tant'alto,
che mai di fama e gloria saran vuoti;

ma or in questo periglioso assalto,
in questa pugna orrenda e dispietata
che m'ha fatto la mente e il cor di smalto,

la vostra gran virtù s'è dimostrata
d'un Ettor, d'un Achille. Ma che fia
questo per me, dolente, abbandonata!

Sempre dubbiosa fu la mente mia,
chi me vedeva mesta giudicava,
che m'offendesse assenza o gelosia.

Ma io, misera me! sempre pensava
l'ardito tuo valor, l'animo audace
con che s'accorda mal fortuna prava.

Altri chiedeva guerra; io sempre pace,
dicendo: assai mi fia se il mio marchese
meco quieto nel suo stato giace.

Non nuoce a voi tentar le dubbie imprese;
ma a noi, dogliose, afflitte, che aspettando
semo da dubbio e da timore offese!

Voi, spinto dal furor, non ripensando
ad altro che ad onor, contro al periglio
solete con gran furia andar gridando;

Noi, timide nel cor, meste nel ciglio,
semo per voi; e la sorella il fratre,
la sposa il sposo vuol, la madre il figlio.

Ma io, misera, cerco e sposo e patre:
e frate e figlio: sono in questo loco
sposa figlia sorella e vecchia matre.

Son figlia per natura, e poi, per gioco
di legge marital, sposa: sorella
e madre son per amoroso foco.

Mai venia pellegrin, da cui novella
non cercassi saper, cosa per cosa,
per far la mente mia gioiosa e bella.

Quando ad un punto il scoglio, dove posa
il corpo mio (chè già lo spirto è teco)
vidi coprir di nebbia tenebrosa.

E l'aria tutta mi pareva un speco
di caligine nera: il mal bubone
cantò in quel giorno tenefroso e cieco:

il lago, a cui Tifeo le membra oppone,
bolliva tutto, o spaventevol mostro!
il dì di pasca in la gentil stagione.

Era coi venti Eolo al lito nostro,
piangeano le sirene e li delfini:
li pesci ancora: il mar pareva inchiostro.

Piangeano intorno a quel gli dei marini,
sentendo ad Ischia dir: "Oggi, Vittoria,
sei stata di disgrazia alli confini.

Benchè in salute ed in eterna gloria
sia converso il dolor: chè padre e sposo
salvi son, benchè presi con memoria.

Allor con volto mesto e tenebroso,
piangendo, all magnanima Costanza
narrai l'augurio mesto e spaventoso.

Ella me confortò com'è sua usanza,
dicendo: "Nol pensar: chè un caso strano
sarebbe, sendo vinta tal possanza."

"Non può dalli sinistri esser lontano,"
diss'io, "un ch'è animoso alli gran fatti,
non temendo menar l'ardita mano.

Chi d'ambe duo costo trascorra gli atti,
vedrà tanto d'ardir pronto e veloce:
non han con la fortuna tregua o patti."

Ed ecco il nuncio rio con mesta voce
dandoci chiaro tutto il mal successo,
che la memoria il petto ancor mi coce!

Se vittoria volevi, io t'era appresso;
ma tu, lasciando me, lasciasti lei:
e cerca ognun seguir chi fugge d'esso.

Nocque a Pompeo, come saper tu dei,
lassar Cornelia, ed a Catone ancora
nocque lasciando Marzia in pianti rei.

Seguir si deve il sposo e dentro e fora:
e, s'egli pate affanno, ella patisca:
se lieto, lieta; e se vi more, mora.

A quel che arrisca l'un, l'altro s'arrisca;
eguali in vita, eguali siano in morte;
e ciò che avviene a lui, a lei sortisca.

Felice Mitridate e tua consorte,
che faceste egualmente di fortuna
li fausti giorni e le disgrazie torte!

Tu vivi lieto, e non hai doglia alcuna:
chè pensando di fama il nuovo acquisto,
non curi farmi del tuo amor digiuna.

Ma io con volto disdegnoso e tristo
serbo il tuo letto abbandonata e solo,
tenendo con la speme il dolor misto,

e col vostro gioir tempro il mio duolo


Although traditionally set into biographies of Vittoria Colonna under the date of Ravenna, April 11, 1512, Easter Day, it clearly took several weeks after she heard of Pescara's imprisonment to write this verse letter; it registers deep bitterness of feeling abandoned and it belongs to the time when Pescara's behavior became (for a time at least) overtly contemptuous of her. The jealousy goes back to 1510 and Isabella di Resquescens Cardona, but it is intensified by her loneliness and further public humiliation.


From V:137-139 (Epistola a Ferrante Francesco d'Avalos, suo consorte, nella rotta di Ravenna). See also B A2:1:53-56.
First printed: Luna, Fabricio (Vocabulario, di cinq' mila Vocabuli Toschi... novamete dechiarati e raccolti da Fabricio Luna Naples, October 1536, Bullock, RIME, 280)
Translation: Thérault 135-8; Stortoni & Lillie 67 (just one section).

Date & Place: Ischia, to Ferrante Francesco d'Avalos, Marchese of Pescara, after Ravenna: 1512, summer into autumn.

Ischia, Copyright Vittorio F. DiMeglio

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Page Last Updated: 22 January 2004